Insulting president should not be a criminal offence, says Kagame

President Kagame disagrees with Rwanda's Supreme Court on maintaining that insulting the head of state is a criminal offence. Says the matter should be discussed further because the president is a public official like any other.

KIGALI | Rwandan President Paul Kagame has rejected a Supreme Court decision to maintain as a crime an insult or defamation against the person of the president.

On Thursday, the highest court in Rwanda ruled that the law, which was introduced last year, should apply to the head of state, but stripped other public officials such as legislators, heads of security agencies and local governments of similar ‘privilege.’

The law means that a person found guilty of insulting or mocking the head of state is liability on conviction to a term of imprisonment of between five and seven years.

Sendo Cleaners

Specifically, the designers of the law envisaged prohibiting writings or caricatures (cartoons) that humiliate the head of state, public officials like MPs, ministers or other government officials.

But in a brief statement released shortly after the Supreme Court decision, Village Urugwiro (Rwanda presidency), said that although it respects the independence of the judiciary, it would not agree with the decision on the head of state.

“The president takes issues with the decision to retain as criminal offences, insults or defamation against the head of state, who is also a public official,” the presidency said.

Lawyer Richard Mugisha had argued that the law was unconstitutional as it undermined freedom of expression. The court ruled that the law should remain, due to the responsibility that the office holds.

But the presidency said that “Kagame’s position has always been that this should be a civil and not a criminal matter.”

Kagame called for further debate on the matter.

Gonzaga Muganwa, the executive secretary of Rwanda Journalists Association, said he would be releasing a statement on the latest development on the contentious press freedom matter shortly.

However, at the time Rwandan parliament passed the law, Muganwa had described it as “a classic case of people legislating to protect themselves rather than looking out for the interests of the public.”

“In journalism, cartoons are, by nature, humorous, thus it is easy for the subject to perceive them as humiliating even when the intention is quite different,” he said last year.

This article will be updated as more comments come in.

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